Cauliflower is one of several vegetables in the species Brassica oleracea, in the family Brassicaceae. It is an annual plant that reproduces by seed. Typically, only the head (the white curd) is eaten. The cauliflower head is composed of a white inflorescencemeristem. Cauliflower heads resemble those in broccoli, which differs in having flower buds.
For such a highly modified plant, cauliflower has a long history. François Pierre La Varenne employed chouxfleurs in Le cuisinier françois. They were introduced to France from Genoa in the 16th century, and are featured in Olivier de Serres' Théâtre de l'agriculture (1600), as cauli-fiori "as the Italians call it, which are still rather rare in France; they hold an honorable place in the garden because of their delicacy", but they did not commonly appear on grand tables until the time of Louis XIV.
Diverse in appearance, and biennial and annual in type, this group includes white, Romanesco, various green, purple, brown and yellow cultivars. This type is the ancestral form from which the others were derived.
Northwest European biennial
Used in Europe for winter and early spring harvest, this was developed in France in the 19th century, and includes the old cultivars Roscoff and Angers.
Northern European annuals
Used in Europe and North America for summer and fall harvest, it was developed in Germany in the 18th century, and includes the old cultivars Erfurt and Snowball.
A tropical cauliflower used in China and India, it was developed in India during the 19th century from the now-abandoned Cornish type, and includes old varieties Early Patna and Early Benaras.
There are hundreds of historic and current commercial varieties used around the world. A comprehensive list of about 80 North American varieties is maintained at North Carolina State University.
White cauliflower is the most common color of cauliflower.
Orange cauliflower (B. oleracea L. var. botrytis) contains 25% more vitamin A than white varieties. This trait came from a natural mutant found in a cauliflower field in Canada. Cultivars include 'Cheddar' and 'Orange Bouquet'.
Green cauliflower, of the B. oleracea botrytis group, is sometimes called broccoflower. It is available both with the normal curd shape and a variant spiky curd called Romanesco broccoli. Both types have been commercially available in the U.S. and Europe since the early 1990s. Green-curded varieties include 'Alverda', 'Green Goddess' and 'Vorda'. Romanesco varieties include 'Minaret' and 'Veronica'.
The purple color in this cauliflower is caused by the presence of the antioxidant group anthocyanins, which can also be found in red cabbage and red wine. Varieties include 'Graffiti' and 'Purple Cape'. In Great Britain and southern Italy, a broccoli with tiny flower buds is sold as a vegetable under the name "purple cauliflower". It is not the same as standard cauliflower with a purple curd.
White cauliflower on display in a supermarket in Melbourne, Australia
Boiling reduces the levels of these compounds, with losses of 20–30% after five minutes, 40–50% after ten minutes, and 75% after thirty minutes. However, other preparation methods, such as steaming, microwaving, and stir frying, have no significant effect on the compounds.
A high intake of cauliflower has been associated with reduced risk of aggressive prostate cancer.
Cauliflower can be roasted, boiled, fried, steamed, or eaten raw. Steaming or microwaving better preserves anticancer compounds than boiling. When cooking, the outer leaves and thick stalks are removed, leaving only the florets. The leaves are also edible, but are most often discarded. The florets should be broken into similar-sized pieces so they are cooked evenly. After eight minutes of steaming, or five minutes of boiling, the florets should be soft, but not mushy (depending on size). Stirring while cooking can break the florets into smaller, uneven pieces.
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